Dr. Goodword’s Language Blog

Periods, Commas and Quotations

Bob Meinig raised a question yesterday that comes up now and then. It concerns the placement of quotation marks vis-a-vis periods and commas in our Good Words and on the website.

At I decided to use the US style of placing commas and periods inside quotations marks no matter what. This bothered me because the US system leads to confusion. The US punctuation style would look like this: …the meaning of the word is “to dance.” This is illogical because the period is not part of the meaning of the word which the quotation marks set off. When I give entire sentences, where the period is a part of the sentence, the period goes inside the quotation marks: “The dog began to dance.”

This is the style of punctuation used throughout the non-US English-speaking world and also the style of most scientific journals in the US, certainly those intended for a world-wide audience. Since I am an unrepentant scholar widely published in such journals, this style comes most naturally to me and—it’s logical!

So, when I started up, where I often argue a point of grammar on the basis of consistency, I decided to go with the logical style. I honestly expected to change my mind and do a simple search and replace to change back to the US style. I knew that many visitors, particularly those who consider the entire planet the US, would think me ignorant of the rules of punctuation.

But I never did. I don’t know why. It would be a problematic job going through the entire website now to make a correction. I did decide to use the US style in my new book, “The 100 Funniest Words in English”, just to avoid the hassle this side the Atlantic and Pacific. Hmmm. I guess someone could take that as inconsistent, couldn’t they?

2 Responses to “Periods, Commas and Quotations”

  1. Aníbal Vélez Says:

    How to use periods in case of a use of reference after quotation marks. Where to locate the reference? Examples: (1) “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority.” (Acts 1:7). (2) What if the quotation marks are inside a sentence, such as: Then Jesus said to the disciples: “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority.” (Acts 1:7).

    Thanks, Aníbal

  2. Nelda Says:

    I received this material in response to my question about the rationale for placing periods and commas outside of quotation marks. In your explanation you are taking a world view and suggest that those of us who question it “consider the entire planet the US.” I, however, do not consider the US to BE the world. I would simply like for our elementary, middle, and high school students to have consistent models for the standard that is taught in the schools. It is very confusing to see forums such as yours to be “inconsistent” with the way editors edit textbooks, library materials, CDs of relevant research materials, and other online sources. My question goes back to the models which we provide to students. When in Rome . . ..

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